How to Say Hello in Lebanese Arabic


Introduction

In Lebanon, as in the rest of the Arabic-speaking world, politeness and civility in personal interactions is highly valued. Conversations frequently begin with a torrent of greetings and inquiries into one another’s health and well-being. Much of the give and take is rather formulaic, however, so it is fairly easy to master the basics.

Greetings

Lebanese society is quite diverse, and a variety of greetings are regularly used. Which greeting is offered in a given situation will be influenced by a number of social factors, including the age, gender, class, religion, and relationship of those offering and receiving the greeting, as well as by the time of day, and the location and setting of the interaction.

Greetings between individuals of the same sex are often accompanied by a handshake and sometimes three alternating kisses on the cheeks (or air kisses next to the cheeks) if the people know each other well. Some women will also greet a man in this way; however, this should never be assumed and is best left to the woman’s initiative.

Keep in mind that devout Muslims, both men and women, will generally avoid physical contact with members of the opposite sex to whom they are not related. In these situations, you should place your hand over your heart while offering your greeting.


Morning and Afternoon/Evening Greetings

These greetings are suitable for most situations, both formal and informal, whether addressing strangers or family and friends.

 

Greeting: Good morning SabāH lЌér صَباح الخير
Response: Good morning SabāH nnūr صَباح النّور
(lit. “bright” morning)
Greeting: Good morning SabāH lЌér صَباح الخير
Response: Good morning SabāH lward صباح الْوَرد
(lit. “flowery” morning)
Greeting: Good afternoon/evening masāå lЌér مَساء الخير
Response: Good afternoon/evening masāå nnūr مَساء النّور
(lit. “bright” afternoon/evening)


Welcome (Āahlan wasahlan)

“Āahlan wasahlan / أهلاً وَسَهْلاً” and its abbreviated version “Āahlan / أهلاً” do not really mean “Hello” but are rather expressions of hospitality used to welcome a guest. When visiting an Arab home, for example, your host is likely to say to you “Āahlan wasahlan / أهلاً وَسَهْلاً” several times during your visit. The appropriate response is “Āahlan fīk / فيك أهلاً” (to a man), “Āahlan fīké / فيكِ أهلاً” (to a woman) or “Āahlan fīkun / فيكُن أهلاً” (to a group).

 

Greeting: Welcome Āahlan wasahlan أهْلاً وَسَهْلاً
Response: Thank you (m.) Āahlan fīk أهْلاً فيك
Greeting: Welcome Āahlan wasahlan أهْلاً وَسَهْلاً
Response: Thank you (f.) Āahlan fīke أهْلاً فيكِ
Greeting: Welcome Āahlan wasahlan أهْلاً وَسَهْلاً
Response: Thank you (pl.) Āahlan fīkun أهْلاً فيكُن

“Āahlan wasahlan / أهلاً وَسَهْلاً” and “Āahlan / أهلاً” are also frequently used in response to a greeting, even if that greeting already has its own proper response. For example:

 

Greeting: Good morning SabāH lЌér صَباح الخير
Response: Welcome Āahlan wasahlan أهْلاً وَسَهْلاً
Greeting: Good afternoon/evening masāå lЌér مَساء الخير
Response: Welcome Āahlan أهلاً

This blurs the distinction between “Welcome” and “Hello”, but don’t worry too much about that. Just go with the flow – greetings will often be mixed in Lebanese Arabic. Most people prefer certain greetings and replies to others, and sometimes they will reply with non-standard responses.

You will also hear the following variations on “Āahlan wasahlan / أهلاً وَسَهْلاً” and “Āahlan / أهلاً”:

 

Āahlā wsahlā أَهْلا وسَهْلا
yā Āahlan wasahlan يا أهْلاً وَسَهْلاً
Āahlén أهْلين
yā halā يا هَلا
yā halā yā halā يا هَلا يا هَلا


French and English Greetings

Many Lebanese regularly use the French greetings “Bonjour” and “Bonsoir”, both casually and in formal situations. The response to these greetings is often Arabicized by adding the Arabic dual ending (“én / ين”) to the French salutation to create a uniquely Lebanese expression.

 

Greeting: Good day bōnjūr بُونْجور
Response: Welcome Āahlan wasahlan أهلاً وَسَهْلاً
Greeting: Good day bōnjūr بونْجُور
Response: Good day bōnjūrén بونْجورين
(lit. “Double good day”)
Greeting: Good evening bōnswār بونْسوار
Response: Good evening bōnswārén بونْسوارين
(lit. “Double good evening”)

The use of French greetings is especially prevalent in – although by no means restricted to – Christian areas. This practice is also common in formal or professional settings, such as hospitals and banks, as well as places associated with Western culture or the leisure activities of the middle and upper classes, such as art galleries, boutiques, fitness clubs, upscale restaurants and bars.

The English greeting “Hi” is also commonly used, especially by women, young people and students, in many of the same places where French greetings are heard. Unlike “Bonjour” and “Bonsoir”, however, “Hi” has a distinctly informal quality, and is mainly used between friends.

In a study of greetings in Beirut, Marie-Aimée Germanos found that women tend to use “bonjour” and “hi” more than men, and concludes that these greetings may be considered “more “feminine”” (“Greetings in Beirut”, p. 156, 161).

Popular though the French and English greetings may be in certain places, in others they are hardly ever used. This is particularly true of working-class Muslim neighbourhoods, where the next greeting predominates.


Islamic Greeting

This greeting is commonly used in areas with a predominantly Muslim population, especially working-class areas, but rarely elsewhere. It serves as “Hello” as well as “Goodbye”, and it can be used to address both individuals and groups, whether male or female (i.e. it has only one form).

 

Greeting: May peace be upon you Āassalāmu 3alaykum السَّلامُ عَلَيْكُم
Response: May peace be upon you too wa3alaykum ssalām وعَلَيْكُم السَّلام

In Germanos’ study, a significant majority of those who used the Islamic greeting were men (p. 158).


Hello (marHabā)

“marHabā / مَرْحَبا” is often the first greeting taught to foreigners when they are learning Lebanese Arabic, and it serves well in most everyday situations. It is particularly useful as a neutral greeting if you’re not sure whether to use “bonjour” or “Āassalāmu 3alaykum”. Just keep in mind that it can sound a bit casual to some ears. If a certain degree of formality is called for, then “SabāH/masāå lЌér” might be a better choice.

 

Greeting: Hello marHabā مَرْحَبا
Response: Welcome Āahlén / Āahlan أهْلين/ أهْلاً
Greeting: Hello marHabā مَرْحَبا
Response: Hi (lit. “Double hello”) marHabtén مَرْحَبْتين

Germanos finds that men tend to use “marHabā” more than women, and that this expression is more frequently used by people between the ages of 40 and 59 (p. 156-7).


Casual Greetings

Casual greetings imply a certain degree of familiarity, and are best reserved for family, friends and people you meet with or run into quite often in relaxed settings. You should be careful about using them with people you do not know. If in doubt, use a more formal greeting. Don’t worry about sounding too formal – as a general rule of thumb, any greeting that can be used to address a stranger is also appropriate for addressing family and friends, while the reverse is not true.

 

Greeting: Greetings (“Cheers”) salām سَلام
Response: Greetings (“Cheers”) salām سَلام
Greeting: Morning guys/ladies SabāHō šabēb/Sabāyā صَباحو شَباب/صَبايا
Response: Morning SabāHō صَباحو
Greeting: Hey there 3awēfé عَوافي
Response: Hey 3awēfé عَوافي
Greeting: Hey there 3awēfé عَوافي
Response: Welcome Āahlén أهْلين
Greeting: Hi sa3īdeŧ سَعيدِة
Response: Hi sa3īdeŧ سَعيدِة
Greeting: Hi sa3īdeŧ سَعيدِة
Response: Welcome yā halā يا هَلا


yi3Tīk l3āfyeŧ

It is very common to greet a person engaged in some type of work with the expression “yi3Tīk l3āfyeŧ / يَعْطيك العافْيِة“. (This is the masculine form.) The greeting literally translates to “May he (i.e. God) God give you good health”, and expresses a hope that the person will be able to continue with his work. The response is “Āallaћ y3āfīk / الله يْعافيك” (again, this is the masculine form), i.e. “May God give you good health too”. This greeting can be used upon meeting or departing, as a hello or goodbye. Moreover, it can be said to anyone, whether known or unknown to the speaker. However, it should not be used in very formal situations, nor should it be used to greet someone of a much higher status.

In addition to its use as a greeting, “yi3Tīk l3āfyeŧ / يِعْطيك العافْيِة ” can also be said to someone who has finished a task or who has just made reference to his work in some way. An English speaker might say something like “Well done” or “Good luck with your work” in such contexts. In this sense, the expression is always appropriate, whatever the status of the person being addressed.

 

(May God) give you (m.) good health yi3Tīk l3āfyeŧ يِعْطيك العافْيِة
(May) God give you (f.) good health too Āallaћ y3āfīke الله يْعافيكِ
(May God) give you (f.) good health yi3Tīke l3āfyeŧ يِعْطيكِ العافْيِة
(May God) give you (m.) good health too Āallaћ y3āfīk الله يْعافيك
(May God) give you (pl.) good health yi3Tīkun l3āfyeŧ يِعْطيكُن العافْيِة
(May) God give you (f.) good health too Āallaћ y3āfīke الله يْعافيكِ


Additional Greetings

The following greetings are not used as frequently as the ones we have already discussed. They must be modified to agree with the person you are speaking to, i.e. a man (m.), woman (f.) or group (pl.).

The first greeting is somewhat formal, and is best used with people you do not know. It can serve as a hello and a goodbye.

 

Good day to you (m.) nhārak sa3īd نْهارَك سَعيد
Good day (lit. “better day”) to you (f.) nhārik Āas3ad نْهارِك أَسْعَد
Good day to you (f.) nhārik sa3īd نْهارِك سَعيد
Good day (lit. “better day”) to you (m.) nhārak Āas3ad نْهارَك أَسْعَد
Good day to you (pl.) nhārkun sa3īd نْهارْكُن سَعيد
Good day (lit. “better day”) to you (f.) nhārik Āas3ad نْهارِك أَسْعَد

The next greeting literally means “May he (i.e. God) make your morning happy for me”, and it has a distinctly friendly connotation. It can be used in place of “SabāH lЌér / صَباح الخير”, although the latter is preferable in more formal situations.

 

Greeting: Good morning to you yis3idlé SabāHak يِسْعِدلي صَباحَك
Response: And to you wSabāHik وصَباحِك
Greeting: Good morning to you yis3idlé SabāHik يِسْعِدلي صَباحِك
Response: And to you wSabāHak وصَباحَك
Greeting: Good morning to you yis3idlé SabāHkun يِسْعِدلي صَباحْكُن
Response: And to you wSabāHik وصَباحِك

You can also change this expression from “Good morning” to “Good evening” by replacing “SabāHak / صَباحَك” with “nhārak / نْهارَك”, i.e. “yis3idlé nhārak / يِسْعِدلي نْهارَك”.

The next greeting is another way of saying “Good evening.” It means “May he (i.e. God) give you a good evening.” It is essentially interchangeable with “masāå lЌér / مَساء الخير” both in meaning and usage. The response means “And may he make your evening happy.”

 

Greeting: Good evening (m.) ymassīk bilЌér يْمَسّيك بِالخير
Response: Good evening (f.) yis3id masēke يِسْعِد مَساكِ
Greeting: Good evening (f.) ymassīke bilЌér يْمَسّيكِ بِالخير
Response: Good evening (m.) yis3id masēk يِسْعِد مَساك
Greeting: Good evening (pl.) ymassīkun bilЌér يْمَسّيكُن بِالخير
Response: Welcome Āahlén أهْلين


Final Points

Everyone answers the telephone with “Āallō / أَلو”.

If you are greeting someone who is part of a group in a room or some other defined space, don’t greet only this person. Make sure to greet the others in the group individually, even if you don’t know them.

It is a sign of respect to stand up to greet someone when they enter the room. You can, however, use the following expression, which literally means “Keep yourself comfortable”, to insist that a person not go to the trouble of getting up to greet you.

 

(to a man) Ќallīk mirtēH خَلّيك مِرْتاح
(to a woman) Ќallīke mirtēHaŧ خَلّيكِ مِرْتاحَة
(to a group) Ќallīkun mirtēHīn خَلّيكُن مِرْتاحين

Reference:
Germanos, M. (2007), “Greetings in Beirut: Social distribution and attitudes towards different formulae”, in C. Miller, E. Al-Wer, D. Caubet and J. C. E. Watson (eds), Arabic in the City: Issues in Dialect Contact and Language Variation, London and New York: Routledge, 147-65.


Related

How to Pass on Greetings in Lebanese Arabic
“How Are You?” in Lebanese Arabic
How to Say Goodbye in Lebanese Arabic

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